After a decade of declining enrollment and reduced state funding, the Pennsylvania higher education system is taking major but controversial steps to curb the system’s financial difficulties, support academic programs in troubled institutions, and communicate with elected officials More cooperation.
The board of directors of the system unanimously approved a plan on Wednesday to merge 6 of the 14 universities into two institutions. In the western part of the state, the campuses in California, Clarion, and Edinburgh will merge, and the campuses in Bloomsburg, Lockhaven, and Mansfield will become one institution.
“The steps we are finalizing are things we have been talking about since I joined the board eight years ago,” said lawyer and board member David M. Maser. “This plan is not perfect,” he said, “but it is a very good plan.”
The two institutions after the merger will be led by a principal and leadership team, including admissions management and student support services, as well as a unified teacher, sharing academic courses on the three joint campuses of each new college.
Several board members said that given the state’s demographic trends and the continued inadequacy of state funding, voting on the merger is difficult but necessary.
Senator Judith L. Schwank, a Democrat in the State Senate and member of the Passhe board of directors, said that the vote to approve the merger “may be the toughest vote we have ever made.”
“Our system has been ignored for a long time,” said Senator Schwank, who said she was voting to approve the merger “with reservations.”
Principal Daniel Greenstein, who guided the merger plan through the approval of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and Systems Committee, said that despite widespread opposition from teachers and students, the cost of inaction outweighs the risks of the proposal.
Greenstein said that in order to increase funding for the system, Pash needs not only the help of legislators who traditionally support Pash, but also those who demand greater efficiency and accountability.
Greenstein said the merger proposal achieved this to some extent. In July, Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe, Announce The state will provide Passhe with an additional $200 million over three years to help resolve its financial problems and prevent layoffs and vacations.
The money did not reduce opposition to the merger. Greenstein’s own analysis of more than 1,100 public comments received found that 43% of people opposed the plan, including nearly 60% of faculty and staff and nearly half of students. Greenstein found that more than one-third of the written comments did not hold any position on the merger, but 15% wanted the board to postpone the vote, and only 7% of the written comments supported the plan.
Jamie Martin, the union chairperson representing many faculty and staff of Passhe University, said that most of her members were upset that the process of approving the merger happened so quickly, and that during the pandemic, faculty, staff and students were both upset. Is in a remote state, and may not be fully involved.
“I try to keep a positive attitude,” Martin said, then sighed deeply. “Today is a difficult day because many of our colleagues have expressed concerns,” she said. Martin was encouraged by the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and several board members pointed out that the voting was only the beginning of a longer process, and there were some details to be finalized. In addition, she stated that the plan approved by the board was much better than the original proposal in April, including that it took longer to complete the merger.
The remaining issue is the certification issue, Martin said, especially the program certification for the campus-specific degree to be merged. In addition, the system and campus will have to sort out the situation of each campus sports team. In the long run, the merged organization may lay off and lay off employees.
Higher education scholars said that considering the demographic trends in the region, the long-term neglect of the system by the legislature, and the state’s unique approach to higher education, Pash’s merger proposal is not surprising.
For example, Kevin R. McClure, associate professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University, stated that there is little or no statewide coordination of higher education in Pennsylvania. The two branch schools compete for students and state government funds. University of Wilmington, North Carolina.
“The reorganization of the public system is nothing new,” McClure said. But he said the Passhe merger seems ironic, because even if the number of high school students in the area declines, there are still a lot of working adults who can benefit from getting a degree. “So, this is a weird signing moment.”
Greenstein said in a speech to the board of directors on Wednesday that part of the reason for the merger was to expand enrollment and reach new student groups.
But this is empty for Andrew Koricich, an assistant professor of higher education at Appalachian State University, who followed the debate about Passhe with personal interest-he grew up near the Edinburgh system campus, He studies rural universities. For example, the system does not cooperate with community colleges in the state. Community colleges are completely concentrated in the eastern and southern parts of the state. They can serve as a conduit for potential transfer students and benefit from providing more upper-grade courses. Koricich said this will Transfer to Passhe voucher.
A letter from the Pennsylvania Community College Board stated that the merger plan was “centered on Passhe” and stated that “its implementation did not take into account the courses and services provided by other departments, or the impact on other departments.
What annoyed Coric the most was that the merger of these particular rural institutions seemed to him a foregone conclusion, whether it was the best or not.
“As people who are concerned about rural issues,” Corridge said, “these communities have been told what they will get.”
“Even if this is always the end result,” he said, “it feels like your destiny is being passed on to you.”